MSU researchers harness algae and fungi to create new biofuel system

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In Michigan, Michigan State University scientists found a solution using two species of marine algae and soil fungi to enhance oil production and harvest using what many consider sea sludge. The new proof of concept is a biofuel production platform that lowers cultivation and harvesting costs and increases productivity.

The species of alga, Nannochloropsis oceanica, and fungus, Mortierella elongata, both produce oils that can be harvested for human use; for example, they are components in products like biofuels that power cars, and in omega-3 fatty acids that benefit heart health.

When scientists place the two organisms in the same environment, the tiny algae attach to the fungi to form big masses that are visible to the naked eye. This aggregation method is called bio-flocculation. When harvested together, the organisms yield more oil than if they were cultivated and harvested each on their own.

The new approach feeds the algae with ammonium, one source of nitrogen that algae can quickly use for growth. However, the ammonium supply is controlled so the algae produce the maximum cell density and automatically enter nitrogen starvation. The closely monitored nitrogen diet can increase oil production and lower costs.